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Dissenting Opinion: CenterStage Critic Weighs In 

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Hundreds gathered last week to witness the groundbreaking of Richmond CenterStage, the second incarnation of the city's performing arts complex on East Broad Street. Originally proposed in 2001, the scaled-down $65 million version drew upbeat speakers and performances.

But the smell of horse manure tainted the air — literally and figuratively, according to SaveRichmond.com's Don Harrison. And it wasn't just coming from the city's mounted police horses. Style caught up with Harrison, longtime critic of the arts project, to get his thoughts on all the excitement.

Style: Has much changed since the project's first run?

Harrison: Well, a lot has changed. They had to really scale their project down. … Now they're more concentrated on doing the Carpenter Center and the Landmark [Theater]. They've wasted a total of $22 million — 8 million of taxpayer dollars. There's still no accountability for where that money went. There's still a lot of questions. So what we basically had the other night was a very, very nice dog-and-pony show.

Have some people forgotten about the issue?

I think that some of the media outlets took it upon themselves to make sure that people weren't reminded of what happened. You got a sense of, "Oh, isn't this a wonderful thing." Well, yeah, when I first heard about the arts center, I was excited. It's only when people really look into it and get the facts that they start to realize, "Hey, this isn't so cool." There's a lot of optimism out there. I don't want to squash people's optimism; I just want someone to tell me how things have changed.

What should the average Richmonder do at this point?

Before [Mayor] Wilder announced [his committee to study the project], I would have said urge him to put people in charge who know what they're doing. From a logical point of view, you want people onboard in positions of authority who know what they're doing. It's a point of common sense that seems to have escaped some of the leaders.

What do you see as the future for the project?

Even at its best, it's still going to cost Richmond money. Most similar organizations cost money, and that's why you need things like operating endowments to make sure you're not strapped for cash at the artistic level. The new board is really shortsighted. These guys haven't exactly been the best stewards of the arts. So why give them the power again? They wasted the money. They put the arts organization in bad financial [health]. They bankrupted the Carpenter Center for two years. So it's just really puzzling why there isn't more of an outcry. S

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